Desi Roots, Global Wings – a monthly column focused on the Indian immigrant experience.
Setting goals for a new year gets more complicated as you grow older. Try clarifying your success measures in terms of impact and meaning instead of achievements and awards.
It’s traditional to use the month of December to recall and reminisce the highs and lows of the year that was.
Unlike previous years where I could claim to have traveled to several countries and tried my hand at new cuisines and activities, this year, I have nothing sensational to report.
Yet it has been an extraordinary year of personal milestones that make me shake my head in wonder.
Reliving old and new experiences
Decades after childhood immunizations, I once again got vaccinated for protection against a virus that has caused havoc around the world. Even as I do my part to safeguard myself from the worst of the effects of Covid-19, I am also aware of the role I play in keeping others safe through my responsible action.
From being a writer who dabbled in writing essays and op-eds, I finally made the leap to being an author by publishing my first book – Rewriting My Happily Ever After – A memoir of divorce and discovery. While the act of getting the book out to readers was massive, the shift of the mindset involved in finally owning the tag of ‘author’ was a bigger achievement.
I witnessed both my children leaving the nest within a few weeks of each other. One moved to the US for her Masters and the other moved to the dorm as she began her undergraduate studies in Singapore. The empty nest, though not entirely unexpected, descended abruptly and too quickly. Although the mind could grasp its significance, the body seemed taken aback.
The last couple of months were a mix of confusion and solitude as I suffered from excruciating pain that was difficult to diagnose even with a combination of modern diagnostic techniques and alternative medicine strategies. It finally came down to a slow realization that burnout is a real condition and that rest needs to be a significant part of any to-do list that I make in the future.
Turning the clock forwards and back at the same time
Finally in December, two years of being stuck on the small island of Singapore, I boarded an airplane to make a long-awaited trip to the US. I am writing this piece from a room in Berkeley, where my daughter shares an apartment with other graduate students. It’s strange being a guest in her home. She shows me around campus, worries if I am dressed warmly enough and cooks me dinner. This role reversal is a bittersweet milestone that many parents with an empty nest will understand.
She was born right here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I remember bringing her home swaddled in a pale green blanket and a yellow hat, strapped into an infant car seat. When did the years go by?
As I take in the empty streets along Fisherman’s Wharf, see the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear sunny day and consider getting my face sketched by a local artist, I remember showing my parents around these streets while pushing a toddler in a stroller. I was happy with my work life, and with my support structure of friends who enabled and enriched my life. I was young then and thought this would be my life forever.
There was no way to know that my little girl and I would face unimaginable obstacles after we made our way from the US to India. Even as our family broke apart, she and I stayed together and more importantly, we remained whole. While we leaned on each other, me giving her support and she giving me purpose, we fought (the world and sometimes each other) and found our way to a joyful life rooted in authenticity and community. And then we moved to Singapore to begin another chapter.
Confronting the new year
I’m using this end of year holiday to recharge and rejuvenate but also to reflect and redefine not just goals for the next year but priorities for the next stage of my life. It sounds a bit ominous when described like that but that’s what it is.
Whether we like it or not, our life flows with time – sometimes in turbulent waves that tosses us up or swirls gently around, but it never stands still. While we may measure a year (or a life) in terms of discrete milestones, or linear stages, these are the external changes that we notice, the markers that stand outside of ourselves.
It’s the changes on the inside that are the true measures of a life.
To figure out the path ahead, I need to honestly answer question such as
- What is it that I value now compared to before?
- Are my goals more about achievement or creating meaning?
- Is my future about career trajectory or personal fulfillment?
- What do I care more about – titles and bank balance or impact?
As I get older I find myself becoming increasingly reluctant to define my life in simplistic terms or using numerical measure to gauge impact.
It takes time to wade through the chaos and complexity of life and considerable introspection to comprehend what seems like a random series of events to come to a holistic understanding of its meaning.
Writing is my way of understanding life.
Instead of setting writing goals for 2022, I have decided to apply Anne Lamott’s wisdom to everything I write:
“If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse.
Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”
Happy New Year!
Ranjani Rao is a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, and a former resident of USA, who now lives in Singapore with her family. Her latest book, Rewriting My Happily Ever After – A Memoir of Divorce and Discovery is now available worldwide. She loves connecting with readers at her website and at Medium | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram